Down by 11 points with 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Watchung Hills appeared to be headed to a 20th loss in 20 run-ins with Phillipsburg’s football team.
After enduring many years of losing seasons, this Watchung Hills team proved itself different from its predecessors.
Watchung Hills pieced together consecutive touchdown drives with the help of a successful onside kick, and Phillipsburg’s 42-yard field goal attempt on the game’s final play missed as the Warriors shocked the previously unbeaten Stateliners 21-20 on Saturday in Watchung Hills.
“All the respect to (Phillipsburg), they’re tops of the state year in and year out,” said Watchung Hills coach Rich Seubert, whose team improved to 3-0. “But you know, these kids worked hard. My senior class, they put the time and effort in. (A) couple years ago, we were 0-10. Two days later, these kids were in the weight room. So Watchung’s back on the map.”
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In the late stages of a largely frustrating second half for the Stateliners (3-1) in which the offense threw a pair of interceptions and the defense was on the field for the majority of the action, running back Matt Quetel broke loose for a 34-yard touchdown. The senior dove for the pylon from within the 5-yard line and broke the plane to give Phillipsburg a 20-9 lead with 5 minutes to play.
At that point, for Watchung Hills to pull out a victory, everything needed to work out just about perfectly.
The Warriors faced a fourth-and-15 on the first series following Quetel’s score. Quarterback Chad Martini shook off two separate sack chances and delivered a 17-yard pass over the middle of the field to wide receiver Justin Drews.
“Their quarterback extended plays. We couldn’t get him down,” Phillipsburg coach Frank Duffy said. “He’s a big kid. We couldn’t get him down; he just completed some passes there. And then on the fourth down, we’ve just gotta make the play there.”
Five plays later, Martini again found a soft spot over the middle, this time occupied by senior John Bechtle. Bechtle broke a tackle and found paydirt for a 31-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 20-15 with two and a half minutes to play. A two-point conversion trick-play attempt with two pitches and a pass into the end zone toward Martini went incomplete.
Rather than risk Phillipsburg running out the clock, Watchung Hills attempted an onside kick and converted.
With 40 seconds left, Martini found Bechtle on fourth-and-1 for an 11-yard completion, and Bechtle managed to run out of bounds to stop the clock. Martini went back to Bechtle one last time on the ensuing play, finding a familiar hole over the middle of the field. Bechtle caught the pass, turned and ran for a 16-yard touchdown that gave the Warriors a one-point lead.
Following another unsuccessful Watchung Hills two-point attempt, Phillipsburg received the ball with 23 seconds left on its own 16-yard line. As time expired, officials flagged Watchung Hills for roughing the passer, resulting in one untimed down. Phillipsburg set up for a 49-yard field goal, but an offsides penalty on Watchung Hills moved the ball 5 yards closer. Ultimately, the mistake wouldn’t cost the Warriors, as a 42-yard attempt missed.
“I trust our kicker,” Duffy said. “To me it just felt like it was the right call. I felt like we had a better chance of getting it through the uprights than just throwing a bomb up.”
After a premature celebration that came before the roughing the passer penalty was announced, the Watchung Hills bench stormed the field for a second time once the referees signaled the field goal was no good.
The Warriors had finally beaten Phillipsburg.
“I think it’s special for all the seniors,” Seubert said following the senior day victory. “We have 22 seniors on our roster. All those kids have bought in. They came here from youth football when people in this area always said Watchung Hills could never be winners on this football field. And they bought in, they worked their butts off, and we just beat a team that’s in the top 10 in the state, so I’m pretty excited.”
Watchung Hills went winless in the 2018 season. The team started off the 2019 campaign with three straight victories but won only two of its final seven games. Its last winning campaign came in 2012, when the Warriors went 6-4. A win of this caliber has long been a long time coming.
“I mean this week we really all dialed in,” Martini said. “Two seasons ago, 0-10, last season 5-5; we’re off to a 2-0 start and now 3-0. We had to prove ourselves this game. We knew we were not a fluke, but everyone else thinks we’re a fluke. I mean we saw people doubting us. We knew if we give it our all, we could win this game.”
Martini has had an up-close view of his team’s progression. The senior has been the starting quarterback since late in his freshman year. Saturday, he threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns on 30 completions out of 47 passes.
“We knew it was going to be hard to run against them,” Martini said. “They have a great run defense, their linebackers are great. We knew we were going to have to start airing it out. I mean I’m always confident in my game airing it out. (Those were) the best words I’ve heard all season, ‘We’re gonna have to air it out.’”
Watchung Hills trailed 14-0 at halftime as Phillipsburg quarterback Matthew Garatty found wide receiver Jalil Terrell twice for touchdowns. Garraty threw for 177 yards in the first half, but Watchung Hills held possession of the football for much of the second half.
The Stateliners survived three defensive pass interference penalties in their own red zone on the first Watchung Hills drive of the third quarter and forced a Martini incompletion on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. But the Warriors wrapped up Garraty in the end zone on the very next play, giving Watchung Hills its first points of the contest on a safety.
The Warriors scored again once they received the free kick. Starting the drive on the Phillipsburg side of the field, Watchung Hills covered 41 yards in four plays. Martini tossed his first of three touchdowns to Bechtle with a high pass over the defender from 9 yards out, making it 14-9.
Senior Kyle Saunders and junior Bjorn Golden came away with interceptions for Watchung Hills later in the half, as the entire roster worked together to pull off an improbable and colossal victory.
Quetel finished with 124 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries for P’burg. Terrell had six catches for 138 yards and two scores.
“This whole week we were dialed in, we were locked in, we put it all together,” Martini said. “(We) had the best week of practice in school history, our coaches said. I mean, we wanted this result and we got it. Our work proves it.”